Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Nov-Dec Contents Rhythms 15
released in July 1966, Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton
(aka The Beano Album) is one of the most influential
guitar albums of all time – an album that changed the
way electric guitarists played and transformed the
language of blues guitar.
Eric Clapton played the blues like no other white guitarist
before him, inspiring countless blues musicians who came
after him. The intensity and ferocity he brought to the
songs on this album was unprecedented.
While it was Clapton who created the template for electric
blues, John Mayall’s role on Blues Breakers cannot be
Born in Cheshire, England on November 29, 1933, Mayall
pioneered the acceptance of the blues as a valid musical
art form when there were very few British musicians willing
to do so. Discovering blues and jazz music at an early age
via his father’s vast record collection, young John became
proficient on guitar, harmonica, piano and organ, forming
his first band in 1959.
Opening for Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962
was a turning point for the young musician. Befriended
by Korner, who acted as his musical mentor, he decided to
relocate to London to become fully professional, forming
his first Bluesbreakers in February of 1963.
An early member was innovative folk and blues guitarist
Davy Graham, while bass player John McVie would remain
a cornerstone of the band for the next four-and-a-half years
before leaving to form Fleetwood Mac. Players came and
went by the time Mayall recorded his first album with
McVie, drummer Hughie Flint and guitarist Roger Dean.
In April 1965 Mayall made a decision that would change
the course of electric blues music. On hearing the B-side
of a single by young London R&B band The Yardbirds,
an instrumental called ‘Got To Hurry’ that featured some
amazing soloing from guitarist Eric Clapton, Mayall made
the decision to replace Dean in the Bluesbreakers.
Clapton, eight years Mayall’s junior, was born in Surrey on
March 31, 1945. Raised by his grandparents, the young loner
immersed himself in traditional blues and American R&B
prior to taking up guitar in his early teens.
Joining The Yardbirds in 1963, he needed little convincing
to leave them when Mayall offered him the lead guitar
spot in the Bluesbreakers, a band with no pop aspirations.
From the beginning of their association, Mayall broadened
Clapton’s musical horizons and understanding of the blues.
He introduced him to the music of people such as Freddie
King, whose guitar playing inspired the young musician
to switch from a Stratocaster to a Gibson Les Paul, King’s
guitar of choice.
After leaving the band to travel the world in 1965, Clapton
returned to record his only album with the Bluesbreakers.
From the first day’s recording it was clear that something
special was taking place. Tracks like Otis Rush’s ‘All Your
Love’, the album’s opener, is as mind blowing today, 50
years after Clapton’s bell-like tone, sustained notes and full
throttle soloing inspired fans to graffiti ‘Clapton Is God’ on
buildings around London.
The 21-year-old’s technique and dexterity were on full
display on the Freddie King instrumental ‘Hideaway’, his
solos growing in unprecedented intensity.
Memphis Slim’s ‘Steppin’ Out’, another instrumental, is
played in similar fashion, Mayall’s arrangement enhanced
by Alan Skidmore and Johnny Almond on tenor and
baritone sax and Dennis Healey on trumpet.
On Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’, Flint gets a drum solo while
Clapton sneaks in a splash of The Beatles’ ‘Daytripper’
during another blistering solo.
Clapton’s deep understanding of the blues is in evidence on
two slow blues programmed back to back towards the end
of the album. One is Mayall’s ‘Have You Heard’, the other is
a cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’ which
marked Clapton’s recorded debut as a vocalist. The only
sounds on this track come from Clapton’s voice and guitar
and Mayall’s piano.
This performance alone would have been sufficient to
warrant Clapton’s canonisation as a guitar god. In addition,
it exposed for the first time, the music of Robert Johnson to
a young white audience.
A new documentary, Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars, directed,
by Oscar winner Lili Fini Zanuck (Driving Miss Daisy),
will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival before airing on
Showtime in 2018.
BLUES BREAkERS WITH ERIC CLAPTOn
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